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February 16, 2019

Too late for a wall - the enemy is within

Government officials review the border from Mandera to Lamu where the construction of wall begins. PHOTO/ISMAEL NOOR.
Government officials review the border from Mandera to Lamu where the construction of wall begins. PHOTO/ISMAEL NOOR.

Dear Mr President - a story for you before I get to my point. No finger pointing, I promise.

Once upon a time, along the pathways of Paris’s picturesque Buttes-Chaumont park, with its hills, lake and faux Roman temple, a group of young men could be seen jogging daily, building up a sweat (so the story goes).

However, this guy called Kouachi and his small group of jogging mates had a particular purpose a criminal court would later hear: they were keeping fit for foreign jihad.

This team of joggers were all in their early 20s; many had met at a local middle school, most had poor school records and chaotic family lives.

They came from deprived corners of the surrounding 19th arrondissement in north-eastern Paris, a mix of gentrified apartment buildings, working-class streets and a patchwork of high-rises troubled by gang turf-wars.

This group, mainly unemployed or in small jobs, were involved in petty crime, theft, drugs, trafficking. But then they met a young charismatic guru figure at a local mosque.

Also in his 20s, and only a year older than Kouachi, Farid Benyettou was working as a cleaner but holding discussion groups in his flat about fighting jihad. It was 2004, the aftermath of the Iraq war, and gradually the friends resolved to go to the country to fight the Americans.

Kouachi, who scraped a living delivering for El Primo Pizza on the other side of the ring-road that serves as a moat around Paris, was arrested in January 2005 on his way to catch a flight to Damascus, believed to be ultimately heading for Iraq.

He told the court he was relieved to have been stopped because he hadn’t actually wanted to go. “The more my departure approached, the more I wanted to go back on it,” he told the judge. “But if I chickened out, I was scared I would look like a coward.”

He got a relatively light prison sentence, three years with 18 months suspended, as there was little hard evidence against him except a plane ticket for Damascus.

To lawyers, he seemed to be a fragile young kid with few real political ideas, psychologically manipulated into a sect-like group. After the 2008 trial, he settled down and got a job on a supermarket fish counter.

A decade later Kouachi, 32, and his older brother Saïd, 34, led the deadliest terrorist attack on France in 50 years.

President Uhuru – the wall won’t help.

Use the money on security, on surveillance, on phone tapping if you must (yes I said it), on training more Recce officers on paying them better; use the money to help  security firms work better with government .

Use the money to help organisation that are as committed to the fight as you are to help you get the job done. But don’t waste a shilling on a wall. The enemy is already here.

I’ve taken twice the amount of time I normally do to file this column because I’m fatigued from repeating myself. I said it after Westgate, I said after The Paris attacks and I’m saying it again – The enemy is within.

I’m going back to an article I filed right after the Paris attacks - Max Hastings (former editor at The Guardian) once said “it is pointless to focus on tightening border controls. Most terrorists who launch attacks in the West prove to be citizens of the nations they seek to injure, some of them born here”.

The same goes for us in Nairobi and true enough in Mombasa and most certainly in Garissa. They didn’t come in, they are not coming - they are already here.

The truth is, the radical element no longer comes in through our border points, they live amongst us and we know them. Garissa are you listening?

We live in a world where the criminal element is smarter, faster and in some cases more resourceful than most governments.

Yet those of us who like to brandish the banner of “freedom” refuse to accept that the year is not 1992 and Moi is not in statehouse. What worked then won’t work now.

The criminal element then was a “shifter” or Wanugu. His biggest coup would have been to steal heads of cattle or rob a bank. That’s not the case today.

Once again let me emphasise that the greatest threat to security is already within our borders not outside. When you last dared to state this simple truth, twitter had a field day calling you names.

We accused you of taking us back to the “dark days” and infringing on our privacy. Today we wonder why Duale needs 30 days to name the culprits. You backed down because of the heat – now look...

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Edward Snowden who broadcast American, British and even Kenyan secrets wholesale, are celebrated as heroes by some people who should know better.

In truth, Assange and Snowden have damaged the security of each and every one of us, by alerting the jihadis and Al Qaeda, our mortal enemies, to the scale and reach of electronic eavesdropping.

They put everything out there in the name of “people have a right to know” never once thinking that “people” also includes every terrorist network in the world.

In doing so, they destroyed firewalls and allowed the terrorists to walk right in and take what they wanted and better yet, change their strategy. It is a known fact that from the moment Snowden did the stupid, Al-Qaeda changed strategy and tactic.

Michael Howard suggested that we need a lot of spies and special forces, together with higher-quality diplomats — ‘spooks, geeks and thugs’ he called them and I agree with him totally. I’m repeating this again. Don’t waste money on a wall – bet yourself some spooks, geeks and Recce.

The geeks are available and working. Ory Okolloh and her Ushahidi crowding sourcing app has inspired another idea. Kaarada. Heard about it yet? It’s only a week old.

Google it, or better still download it. Is it the best we can do – I don’t know, but it’s a start – it allows me and my colleagues to keep an eye on what we don’t feel comfortable about. It ensures I can finally participate in security and truly be part of what you said – that security is up to you and me.

Knowing my musings here may be cause for thought and debate, allow me to add just one more thing. If you look at the profile of these young men who are given to violence, a lot of them can be termed as losers.

Young men incapable of achieving any form of success – whether social or professional - in society. I said this once, I will say it again – our young men need to be gainfully, fruitfully occupied.

An idle mind is the devil’s workshop and we should never dismiss the role of boredom and a lack of purpose, in persuading unstable young men to embrace terrorism.

Don’t build a wall sir, get yourself some geeks, spooks and Recce. Kaarada Boss. Get the app and encourage the rest of us to pour credible information into it and better still, get your people to act on it.

The wall can’t keep them out – the enemy lives, breathes, eats and walks amongst us.

They are already here.

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